I’m a food writer, which breaks down to two restaurant meals per day that are often driven by a pending assignment, or by an endless hunger for variety. That said, I occasionally get a spare meal, and when that happens, I gravitate toward a favorite spot that doesn’t require a two-hour round-trip drive. Learn about 10 of my regular haunts.
Numbers on the map correspond to listings below and appear in alphabetical order instead of order of preference.
There aren’t many sure things in the restaurant world, but when chef Bryant Ng and wife Kim teamed with Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan for a follow-up to The Spice Table, that was all I needed to know. Cassia is more ambitious, and much larger, than their late great Little Tokyo restaurant. Ng leans heavily on Southeast Asian flavors, particularly Singapore and Vietnam. I typically bring big groups of friends and family, since the menu lends itself to sharing. White pepper crab is a must when Dungeness crab is in season. I’m also a sucker for sunbathing prawns, naan with chickpea curry, and Vietnamese coffee pudding. Also, where else are you going to find charcuterie like Sichuan lamb ham and smoked curried duck? Nowhere.
1976 has been very good to me. Not only was that the year I was born. It’s also the year that Elena Petikyan opened her signature Greek-Armenian restaurant on an otherwise dull stretch of Glendale Avenue. I enjoy plenty of other Middle Eastern restaurants in L.A., but this is the place where I take people who are visiting from out of town. Sadly, I no longer live within striking distance, but I’m always happy to take a detour for their lentil soup, hot yogurt-slathered grape leaves, grilled kebabs, and falafel with hummus.
3. Free Range [CLOSED]
Free Range is the only food truck that I hit on a regular basis. It helps that chef Jesse Furman parks in front of Coffee Commissary, where I write on a regular basis. More important is that he’s always switching things up. Sure, Free Range’s core menu is full of hits, including a fried chicken sandwich, fried chicken biscuit, and avocado toast, but Furman has plenty of other great ideas. Hopefully his chicken Caesar salad sandwich resurfaces, along with his riff on Korean fried chicken.
I didn’t expect to like this place as much as I have. After all, Gjusta is from the same restaurant group as Gjelina Take Away, which has customers eat wood-fired pizza and fancy sandwiches on milk crates in an Abbot Kinney alley, like some sort of ironic social experiment. Gjusta displayed more disorder was when they opened behind Gold’s Gym earlier this year. The multifaceted concept has dialed in their service model. Now customers pull deli-style ticker tape numbers, and they’ve added a beautiful back patio with communal seating, which sure beats huddling over a bench. I’m a big fan of anything that’s sandwiched between their crusty house-baked bread, whether it’s falafel, porchetta, or banh mi. Gjelina also serves really good roast chicken, and their soups are some of the best in town.
5. Ledlow [CLOSED]
I have a soft spot for this restaurant, which was the scene of my bachelor dinner. I first met Chef Josef Centeno when he was making bäcos in the shadow of the Wiltern Theatre. He has since come to dominate downtown’s Old Bank District, and I can see why. At his nouveau retro restaurant, Ledlow, he features beef tongue and deviled eggs in “salads” while simultaneously demonstrating a mastery over seasonal vegetables. If you really want to go all-out, he also cooks some of L.A.’s best steaks – that includes steakhouses – and he has a passion for pork. His creativity also extends to breakfast and lunch.